Johns Hopkins University students gathered on Thursday, May 12, to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the Nakba—or “catastrophe”—when, in 1948, what was once Palestine was no longer recognized and was recognized as Israel. Many were killed during what the official account of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement called “Israel’s campaign of ethnic cleansing.” At least 750,000 Palestinians were displaced.

Those advocating for the fundamental human rights of Palestinians argue that the Nakba continues to this day.

“The Nakba is ongoing. Families just this week in the village of Massafer Yatta were expelled from their homes.”

Instagram post from Students for Justice in Palestine at Johns Hopkins

“The Nakba is ongoing. Families just this week in the village of Massafer Yatta were expelled from their homes,” Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Johns Hopkins, who held Thursday’s event, explained on Instagram. “Just like 1000s of Palestinian before them, they watched as their homes were bulldozed by the Israeli regime.”

The Nakba is commemorated on May 15, but SJP Hopkins moved their event up earlier as many students are leaving the campus for summer break at the end of the week. 

“A few days from now is Nakba day. It’s to commemorate the Nakba 74 years ago,” Omar Abdul Ghani, one of the SJP Hopkins’ organizers, told Battleground Baltimore. “We tried to do it a little bit earlier because people are leaving after finals. We’re trying to reach as many people as we can.”

The small group stood in front of four tall billboards which read “The Apartheid Wall Must Fall,” “Free Palestine,” “No Walls From Mexico to Palestine,” and other messages calling attention to Israel’s ongoing subjugation of Palestinans.

Calls for solidarity between Baltimore and Palestine are common among activists, especially during 2015’s Baltimore Uprising, where chants of ​​“From Baltimore to Palestine, occupation is a crime” were frequently heard in the streets, connecting Baltimore City’s profound history of racism, segregation, and violent boundary enforcement by police to Israel’s even more aggressive policing of Palestinians.

During yesterday’s Nakba commemoration, while others spoke, Abdul Ghani handed out flyers which called for the boycott of specific products “that benefit and profit off Israeli occupation,” such as Pillsbury and Sabra. The group also implored people not to visit Israel—“not for study abroad, not even for a layover.”

“For us as Hopkins students and students in America in general, we try to disconnect and not normalize the State of Israel—not offer it legitimacy,” Abdul Ghani said. “Hopkins currently has a study abroad program with Israel, as well as large campus groups supporting Israel. So we should at least be cognizant and be aware of how we as students can at least provide inaction as in boycotts to aid the cause.”

Just two days after SJP Hopkins announced its Nakba commemoration, Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israel military forces while reporting on a raid in the West Bank.

For SJP Hopkins, the focus is also on attempting to navigate the “status quo” that is Israel’s occupation of Palestine: “I mean, it’s been at least a decade since Israeli Government shifted hard, right? These days, it’s not about finishing, in their words, ‘the conflict.’ It’s not about finding a resolution. It’s more about trying to live with the status quo,” Abdul Ghani said. “And the status quo means kempt roads, that means good education, and good infrastructure for Israeli citizens that leaves Palestinians out to dry.”

Abdul Ghani explained that just two days after SJP Hopkins announced its Nakba commemoration, Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israel military forces while reporting on a raid in the West Bank. Abu Akleh was wearing a press vest at the time and was shot in the head.

“Israel has killed 50 journalists since 2000,” Abdul Ghani said. “And then there was the bombing of the AP building last year.”

On Friday morning, video of Israel police attacking those who gathered to mourn the killing of Abu Akleh spread across the internet. During a funeral procession, Israel police beat Palestinians who were carrying Abu Akleh’s Palestinian flag-draped coffin.

“There is no architecture at the moment to cease the conflict. Maybe in a few years they’ll have another peace plan which is absolutely unequivocally rejected by Palestinian people,” Abdul Ghani said. “It’s important for us in America and other people around the world to be cognizant and support the Palestinian cause as much as we can.”

Brandon Soderberg

Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.